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‘The worst’: Tax professionals ring the bell on the 2020 tax filing season


This describes in a nutshell what accountants and other tax preparers have faced at the federal and state levels when trying to complete their clients’ 2020 tax returns accurately and on time.

“It was my worst tax season in 30 years of practice,” said chartered accountant Harlan Levinson of Beverly Hills, California. “So many obstacles have been thrown at us this year.”

Deadline extensions, new retroactive tax breaks, new guidelines, and then revised guidelines on how to accommodate any changes have been rolled out since the signing of the US bailout on March 11, which came a month after the start of the tax return period and after 66 million returns already filed.

And there are many unanswered questions, especially at the state level, where it’s unclear whether a given state will comply with all or some of the federal changes, and if so, which ones.

“The changes are confusing everyone,” said CPA Michelle Staebell in Rochester, New York, who also said this tax season has been the worst she has seen in her 15 years of practice.

Lynne Fuentes, CPA in Jericho, New York, Put it this way: “Customers look to us for advice. And sometimes you look at them like a deer in the headlights because you get the information as quickly as it gets.”

Staebell said she suspected her clients were secretly thinking she wasn’t doing a good job when she said she still needed more time to complete their statements. “I tell them, ‘The law changed on March 11.’ It sounds ridiculous. “

Many CPAs actually turn down potential new clients looking for help because they have their hands full managing their existing list in the midst of all the changes.

“I try to help as much as I can – and this is one of the first years I send people,” said CPA Brian Borawski of Waterford, Michigan.

And a lot of preparers are sitting on feedback from customers – especially those who received unemployment compensation or got a paycheck protection program loan for their small business – because their states haven’t yet. indicated if they will follow the IRS and exclude the former. $ 10,200 in unemployment income from taxes or let small businesses deduct expenses paid with P3 money.

“I don’t like to do anything twice if I can do it right the first time,” Fuentes said. “I tell my clients if [lawmakers] change your mind, you’re gonna have to pay me to do it again and what do you get? ”

But before the US bailout took effect, tens of millions of individuals and small businesses had already filed their returns. And now they and their tax preparers must consider whether and when to file an amended return.

The IRS said that for those who had already filed before the unemployment benefit exclusion was approved, it would determine the fix and pay the filer any additional money owed so they don’t have to file a amended declaration.

Still, tax preparers will need to recheck the calculations once they receive them from the IRS.

“Are we trusting the IRS to fix it properly?” said enlisted agent David Mellem in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Preparers must assess whether the incorporation of the unemployment benefit exclusion makes their clients newly eligible for a host of income-based tax breaks, which the IRS do not be calculating.

If they’re eligible, “that means taxpayers have to change their return. But I can’t do that. [for my clients] until the IRS sets it for the taxpayer, because that’s my starting point. So I’m on hold until the IRS does theirs, ”Mellem said.

The agency said it would not start issuing adjusted payments linked to the exclusion of unemployment compensation until May, then in summer.

“It’s painful to have to explain what change is and why we won’t be able to [amend] their return for a while, “Mellem said.” I don’t like congressional action in the middle of tax season. “

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Michelle Staebell’s last name.

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